Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Self-pity is not the remedy for Royals or Lilies

Cian O'Neill and Andy McEntee
Cian O'Neill and Andy McEntee

Frank Roche

MAYBE the solution lies in Longford. Maybe they are the wake-up call that forces fallen giants to get real.

It happened to Mayo in 2010 ... jolted into a bout of forensic introspection, but with many of the same players, they’ve been a top-four team, and more often a top-two contender, every summer since.

Now it has happened to Meath. But will they heed the lessons of Longford? Are they capable of ‘doing a Mayo’? We doubt it.

An overlooked facet of Meath’s shock Leinster exit was that it wasn’t much of a shock at all. Likewise, Kildare’s collapse to Carlow was more surprising but not remotely on the scale of, say, Leicester’s Premier League success in 2016.

It was only shocking if head-to-head history is your cue: Longford were ending a 36-year wait and Carlow a 65-year famine.

Based on league form, both results were eminently possible. But how can Longford (population 40,810; 31st out of 32 counties) finish two points clear of Meath (194,942; ninth)? How can Carlow (56,875; 30th) romp to a seven-point victory over Kildare (222,130; seventh)?

‘Stattos’ might cite Carlow’s flawless 2-14 from 16 shots whereas Kildare’s age-old addiction to shooting themselves in the foot (and missing) was reflected in more wides, 12, than scores, 1-10. But we’re not in a position to dissect the specific detail, having only witnessed the not-very-extensive highlights on The Sunday Game.

We can only speculate on why the two counties best equipped to challenge Dublin’s provincial monopoly have reached such a sorry pass that they are now behind a brace of long-standing minnows with just one Leinster title each to their name?

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First up, we should apologise to Longford and Carlow whose achievements have been partly buried by the furore over what’s gone wrong with their victims.

But that’s the very point: they are ‘maxing’ out on their resources, Meath and Kildare patently aren’t.

Why so? Our suspicion is that Longford and Carlow have long realised they can’t hope to challenge Dublin but they haven’t allowed this to infect their focus or self-confidence.

So they set legitimate targets (be it league promotion, a realistic Leinster scalp, back door progress, or all three) and go for it.

Whereas Meath and Kildare - and Westmeath, based on their anaemic loss to Laois - are now suffering the cumulative morale-sapping after-effects of demoralising defeats to Dublin. This trio have contested the last six Leinster finals to Dublin, losing by a cumulative 63 points.

Having pushed Dublin so hard in 2013, we reckon the 2014 Leinster final was the moment Meath stopped believing. Kildare are slightly different: they were destroyed by Dublin at the semi-final stage in 2013 and ‘15 but, having lost last year’s provincial final with honour, they have regressed beyond all recognition since then.

For Westmeath, last June’s 31-point rout appears to have hastened the unravelling of a team, not just a change of manager.

In all three cases, managers Cian O’Neill (year three), Andy McEntee (year two) and Colin Kelly (even in year one) warrant serious criticism. But the crisis afflicting all three goes beyond who occupies the hotseat.

And blaming Dublin, or indulging in self-pity, won’t rescue them.

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